Lynda Kennedy who is a teacher and a member of the Irish Education Alliance was asked onto RTÉ’s Liveline yesterday to talk about her concerns regarding the books that are being recommended as reading for 12-year olds in Irish libraries.
That wasn’t how RTÉ, guided by the Irish Times’ article on the subject, framed the discussion.
That article sought to portray the concerns of parents and teachers as a campaign targeting the LGBT community, whereas, in fact, the people involved say that their issue is with the explicit and crude language and descriptions in books being recommended to teens in libraries.
The Irish Education Alliance say that, in conjunction with the Natural Womens’ Council and the Parents Rights Alliance, they are campaigning to have the books removed from schools and libraries because they say that some of the content is pornographic, while they also have serious concern that gender ideology is being promoted to children still in primary school.
Gender ideology is the belief that gender is essentially non-binary, that men and women are not born with their biological sex but chose their identity. Recently, a drive to teach this ideology to students – even to those in primary schools – has led to concerns about causing confusion and anxiety amongst children.
On Liveline, Lynda Kennedy pointed to some of the content in the books which include ‘This Book Is Gay’ by author Juno Dawson, and ‘What’s the T‘ by the same author. The Alliance has made complaints to libraries for including these and other books in reading for teens aged 12-17.
As previously reported by Ben Scallan on Gript, the first book features extensive and graphic sex tutorials about bringing men to sexual climax, as well as guides on the mechanics of how to perform anal and oral sex.
While the content is explicit, the language is often pitched towards a young audience, with lots of headings like ‘Handsies’ and “Bummies”, and “Sexyfuntimes”.
Parents have said that the mix of childish language and cartoons with graphic sexual instructions is jarring, and the ‘teensy’ layout and animations don’t seem to sit comfortably with instructions to 12-year olds about how to give orgasms & to “rub cocks”.
Lynda Kennedy told Liveline that this was not about keeping young people in the dark. “I believe that sex education is necessary,” she said, adding that she is a teacher, and that children should be taught the facts of life, but that the very explicit nature of what was written was a problem for her in a book pitched at kids as young as twelve.
Presenter Philip Boucher-Hayes constantly interrupted his guest, with the usual antipathy RTE reserves for anyone who has an opinion contrary to the narrative that it not only supports, but helps to shape.
He also framed the books that have become the source of controversy as material that would help young people – saying that literary fiction could help them realise ‘this is who you might be’. But Kennedy said she had no issue with children learning facts in an age-appropriate manner.
It’s always the same tired old nonsense on Liveline. Boucher-Hayes and a guest more or less said that parents – the people who raise their children from day to day without help from over-paid supposed ‘stars’ on RTE – were too dim to understand all this complicated stuff so we needed books written by people who think it’s appropriate to talk to 12-year olds about anal sex in a crude and values-free manual.
There was lots of scoffing by the Liveline presenter and guests towards Kennedy, with sneering by one about those concerned being in the minority. One caller in a burst of hyperbole said complaints to the library from a teacher were ‘terrifying’. Another caller said we have to trust libraries, even though parents weren’t deemed to be up to the job.
Then Jana Lunden, founder of Natural Women’s Council, called in. She said the campaign was about child protection – and quoted Section 10 of the Children First Act in 2015 (‘2015 Act’) which obliges service providers to “ensure, as far as practicable, that each child availing of the service from the provider is safe from harm while availing of that service.”
She then sought to read out some of what was in the books being objected to – reasoning, I presume, that most listeners would be unfamiliar with what had actually been written, and would therefore not understand the controversy.
She said that the books described “handies” and “fisting” – and that it was not age-appropriate for 12-year old children to be ‘taught how to slide their mouth up and down the shaft of a cock’. Again: she was reading from the books, as she said.
Boucher-Hayes, who had been joking about all the explicit stuff he learned in the playground as a kid, rushed to cut her off. “Ok, Ok, Jena,” he barked, “Follow your own advice on the language”.
What a hypocrite. If what’s in these books is appropriate for teens in libraries, then why does he have a problem with the Liveline audience hearing what that content is?
Kennedy and others say that their campaign is also raising concerns about the materials that have made their way into schools under the radar, and that parents have the right to be alerted about what other people believe is appropriate for children.
On the Facebook page of the Irish Times, some of the comments underneath the library article were interesting.
One woman, who said she was a librarian said: “I don’t think calling people with very very valid concerns ’bigots’ is in any way useful. It’s a lazy argument and just a bid to silence.”
“Never been a fan of censorship but as a mother, if my child had easy access to those books, I would be appalled,” she said. “Fisting and how to clean the sheets afterwards so your parents won’t know? Really? I think we can do better for our children as library services and as a society.”
The ironic thing about the whole discussion on RTÉ was that the Liveline presenter clearly objected to what he saw as censorship of books, but also wanted to censor any reading aloud which would inform parents as to what is in the books.
He can’t have it both ways. And from the chatter online around the controversy, it appears that most parents are in agreement with those who believe that there are some things that are equally unsuitable for a teenager in a library and a listener to Liveline.